Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s security chief has been fired following a review of her “executive security detail’s operations and practices” prompted by a watchdog report that found the government-owned SUV he drove “nearly exclusively” was improperly used to transport political materials.
Delwin Gadlen was terminated quietly from his $126,000-a-year post Friday, and her staff confirmed the ouster Monday. Asked why he was let go, Preckwinkle spokeswoman Becky Schlikerman said: “It’s a personnel matter and we’re not going to get into that.”
Attempts to reach Gadlen were unsuccessful Monday.
It’s the second time in three months that Preckwinkle, a candidate in the crowded race for Chicago mayor, has sacked a staffer. In September she dumped her chief of staff, John Keller, after an allegation of “inappropriate behavior on his personal time” surfaced.
Last month, Cook County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard issued a report on his investigation into the bizarre SUV controversy. The probe determined that during the early morning hours after the 2016 election, a Chevy Tahoe assigned to Preckwinkle’s security team was found abandoned near suburban Lemont. On that Election Day, the security chief drove Preckwinkle to campaign events but said he did so in his personal car, according to the report.
A sheriff’s police officer found the vehicle stuck in the mud with its engine still warm, and a witness told police that the driver had abandoned the Tahoe and walked away, Blanchard said in his report.
Cook County sheriff's office
Political materials were found in the abandoned county SUV.
Political materials were found in the abandoned county SUV. (Cook County sheriff's office)
All the tires were slashed, as was the driver’s seat, the center console and the dashboard, Blanchard said. The car’s rear cargo area contained bags of political literature, a button adorned with an image of Preckwinkle’s face and a dry cleaning receipt bearing the telephone number belonging to her chief of security — Gadlen, according to the report, which identified Gadlen only by his title.
In the report, the security chief is quoted saying that the vehicle was stolen, but the alleged theft was never reported to police, Blanchard said.
After the report was issued in October, Preckwinkle said at one point that her “conviction is that it was stolen. That’s as far as I intend to comment on it.”
Because the vehicle never was reported stolen, Preckwinkle said she requested a “review of the security detail’s operations and practices” for recommendations on “any necessary improvements.”
She also said at the time that she does not allow county vehicles to be used for “the dissemination of campaign materials” but didn’t know who placed the materials in the vehicle.
Schlikerman said that after the internal review, “it was determined that a change in leadership was warranted.” A successor has not been named, she said.
The security detail was placed under the authority of the Forest Preserves of Cook County in September 2018. Within the Forest Preserves of Cook County Law Enforcement Department, the executive security detail members are sworn officers and have the support, training and structure of a law enforcement agency.
According to the inspector general’s report, the security chief was asked about the vehicle’s theft and the campaign materials found inside the SUV.
He told Blanchard’s office he had “no idea how the vehicle was stolen.” He gave almost the same answer about the political items. “How would I know how the materials got there?” he said.
Asked again, the security chief said the vehicle was stolen and “(a) reasonable mind could say that the material could have been planted,” Blanchard said.
Several Cook County commissioners said last month that the report raised concerns, particularly about the security chief’s answers to investigators.
Although Blanchard’s report did not find any wrongdoing by Preckwinkle’s office, the incident is likely to receive further scrutiny as Preckwinkle campaigns for Chicago mayor and key questions about the incident remain.